Customize Technologies to Enhance Product Functionalities

Alan Levine, CIO, The Kennedy Center
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Alan Levine, CIO, The Kennedy Center

Develop Relationship with Vendor

As a medium-sized business looking to maximize limited staff resources within and outside of IT, the key to success for us is leveraging an environment of integrated solutions and developing a deep relationship with a vendor. We achieve greater  business value by taking advantage of the integration across multiple Microsoft platforms and applications, such as  SharePoint, Lync, Exchange/Outlook and SQL Server. Not only are we gaining the extra functionality that comes only when  leveraging multiple Microsoft applications together, the consistent user experience and familiarity and comfort level of our  users grows correspondingly. This leads to greater user adoption and fuller utilizati on of the full range of functionality.

Accomplish More with any Size Budget

Consistent management tools, utilities, and approach and architecture afford greater familiarity and deeper expertise amongst IT staff resources, allowing the enterprise to accomplish more with any given size staff and budget. While the integration  isn’t always as full as we’d like, or as simple to implement, overall, the benefit in most cases is significant especially  when compared to an  architecture consisting of products from multiple vendors that are not integrated out-of-the-box.

Be Open to Platforms other than Microsoft

Not every Microsoft solution is a bestof- breed solution, so where your needs are specific and extensive, you have to be open to leveraging other platforms.  In our case, this meant a CRM systemother than MS Dynamics, as we had very specialized fundraising and ticket sales needs that were best handled by a dedicated system. Yet we ensured thatsystem still leveraged  existing Microsoft solutions where possible. For instance, it utilizes SQL Server as the database, and REST services  developed in.Net; allowing us to take advantage of existing staff expertise, management tools and utilities, along with  accommodating a unified Business Intelligence analytics  and reporting foundation. Among many other examples, this approach  enabled us to easily and affordably leverage MS Lync with our non-Microsoft CRM system. With screen pops on incoming customer phone calls and automated display of customer dashboards, all built cost-effectively, leveraging our existing Microsoft  platforms and expertise.

"Not every Microsoft solution is a best-ofbreed solution, so where your needs are specific and extensive, you have to be open  to leveraging other platforms"

Combination of Technologies for Long-Term Storage

We have pushed SharePoint in particular to its fullest capabilities. As one example, we have a priceless treasure of National Symphony Orchestra concert recording consisting of hundreds ofconcerts going back over 80 years to the 1930s. These recordings were digitized, and stored to Sharepoint to leverage its record retention, workflow, metadata and search  functionality along with the ability to link to additional metadata in a third-party orchestra management application. The  highfidelity recordings were quite large, several Gigabytes per hour recorded.

This was managed by leveraging a third party software package called StoragePoint and LTFS-EE, a cuttingedge hybrid disk/tape  storage solution from IBM. The combination of SharePoint with these technologies allowed us a very cost-effective,  highperformance, infinitely scalable, and most importantly, highly reliable longterm storage solution that protects this  priceless collection of recordings and makes every recording searchable and retrievable.

Reluctant to Commit to Product Portfolio

Unified Communications implemented via MS Lync and Exchange along with collaboration and document management in SharePoint  have been significant game changers for us. We are anxious for full MS Lync-to-Skype integration, particularly integration of video conferencing across those two  platforms. This will open a whole new world of collaboration and customer  service  possibilities and is something often requested by our users. LYNC web conferencing is also not quite up to par with some  leading competitors and we look forward to continued improvements.

While we are excited about Microsoft’s commitment to Business Intelligence and its direction, right now there are quite a range of new and less mature solutions in the portfolio, some of which represent a sharp change in direction, in particular,  the SQL Server Analysis Services architecture and the collection of Power BI capabilities. We’re anxious over the  possibilities and at the same time reluctant to fully commit at this stage in the development of the product portfolio.

On a broader level, there is always a balance to strike between the advantages of an integrated suite of applications from one vendor and the inherent reliance on a single vendor versus what can be gained by working with multiple competitive vendors. That is a balance we believe we’ve achieved but constantly examine.

Partners Translate Objectives to Implementations

Microsoft solutions are too often thought of as commodity products. Don’t underestimate their capabilities or the level of  effort to properly implement the solutions and creating an architecture that allows for maximum utilization. Planning, Architecture and Design are key, and working with someone with in-depth expertise and experience is often necessary. We often work with Microsoft Partners; there is a robust ecosystem of qualified partners. This was instrumental in our success, particularly with Lync and SharePoint, and Office365. Partners can help translate your objectives into working  implementations, identify opportunities, and help you to avoid pitfalls and obstacles that can be costly in dollars, time,  and downtime.

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